Sermon–Palm Sunday–April 9, 2017


Palm Sunday–Sunday of the Passion

April 9, 2017

William Bradbury

Isaiah 50:4-9a, Psalm 31, Philippians 2:5-11, Matthew’s Passion

We rehearse Jesus’ Way of the Cross, performing his last hours, because this is the Master Story that reveals that God is love for us. Jesus is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, God’s human image on earth, who takes the form of a servant, and becomes obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross, as Paul puts it today in Philippians. This is the story Triune God writes. Rome is not in charge of these events. The religious leaders are not in charge, because God is in charge. Just as God is in charge at the Big Bang of the first creation billions of years ago, so too God is in charge at the birth of the New Creation Friday afternoon in Palestine 2000 years ago.

Triune God is in charge, drawing us back into that place in God’s heart where we belong. Jesus does not come to change God’s mind about us, but to set free our mind and heart about God, so where the Son is in the bosom of the Father and the Spirit we may want to be also.

So you’ll remember back two months ago we read the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches his disciples, his apprentices, how to live as if

We are already in communion with the Source of All; as if God’s kingdom has come on earth as it is in heaven.

In those early days of success of the Kingdom of God movement, Jesus says:

“Do not resist an evildoer.” He says: “But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also”: He says:  “if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well”: He says: “if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile”: He says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. 

Today in Matthew’s Passion we get to see Jesus not only talk the talk but walk the walk: Now in the Garden of Gethsemane he refuses to resist his attackers and tells a disciple to put away the sword. Now the soldiers hit him and he doesn’t hit back. Now the soldiers strip him naked, so they can mock him with a royal robeNow he carries for the soldiers the crossbeam he will die on. Now he shows his love for us that while we are killing him, he is dying for us. N. T. Wright talks about this in Matthew for Everyone

Jesus walks the walk because we could not. We are too attached to our stories of success and comfort. We think we can heal ourselves and makes sense of our lives, as if the God who makes, loves, and keeps us is not real or necessary for our happiness.

We could not walk in covenant faithfulness; we could not reflect the light of God into the world because we are too much a part of the darkness.  We are the people we complain about, the ones who won’t sit up straight and fly right.

Jesus now walks the walk as the human image of the Son of God. Jesus walks the walk because we can’t walk it.

I remember pep rallies when I was in high school in Atlanta: the cheerleaders would start a chant naming the stars of the team. They said: David, David he’s our man, if he can’t do it, Peter can. Peter, Peter he’s our man, if he can’t do it Paul can….God the Son comes to us as Jesus to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. He lives out our human vocation to reflect the light of God into the dark world, taking into himself the violence of sin and the evil powers in order to set the world free.

Jesus in John’s gospel at the last supper says:  “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have overcome the world!”

The cross looks like the defeat of Jesus, but it is in fact the victory of God. First of all in this victory, Jesus reveals human sin by displaying it on the cross for all to see.

Now every time we lynch and torture and murder we cannot un-see Jesus on the cross. We can turn our backs, we can slip into an unconscious rage, we can pretend we are God, but we can’t un-see Jesus on the cross, so that like the angry men ready to stone the woman taken in adultery we drop our stones, walking away, starting with the oldest because we can’t help but see that it is our sin that holds Jesus on the cross.

Second in this victory, and deeper still, Jesus our Master reveals divine love on the cross, so that we also can’t un-see the sacrifice of God for us. We can run from that love, but we can never escape that love. The image of Jesus on the cross, God with us and for us, pursues us down every escape route we can devise.

Not an Almighty God who uses violence to defeat Rome and religion. But the All-Vulnerable God who like a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, producing a rich harvest of the union of all things.

This was God’s intention from the foundation of the world, so now the veil in the Temple which blocks our entry into the presence of God is torn in two, because now the whole cosmos is God’s Temple and now every person and place is shot through with the glory of God. No longer do we need to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, because the All-Vulnerable God has come into our homes and our hearts.

Jesus doesn’t live and die for one tribe—for a Jewish tribe or a Christian tribe or a white tribe, or an American tribe.

No, he lives and dies for the human tribe that we all may be one as he and the Father are One.

As we enter into this Holy Week we are encouraged to let go of the stories that are running beneath the surface of our lives. The stories we inherited from our parents, teachers, and nation that are driving us into anxious striving and relentless dis-ease. And to let ourselves be embraced by the arms of the Crucified who eternally brings us back into the heart of Triune God.